Decision Support

Modern Merchandising Stage 3: Collaborate with Purpose and Confidence

Team MakerSights

August 1, 2022

The way teams are deciding which products to bring to market is no longer working for brands, consumers, or the environment. Case in point? Research shows that fashion production more than doubled in the last decade, yet the fashion industry’s market value increased by just 16.7% over the same time period. 

This discrepancy between consumer demand and retail production is leading brands to revisit their merchandising strategies and progress toward a more modern consumer-obsessed model — one that’s built for today’s digital, data-rich, and on-demand world. 

The first step is to incorporate more relevant data sources and direct, real-time consumer feedback at each stage of the product creation process. As we covered in our previous post, brands must then embrace technology to streamline milestone meetings and enable more agile, strategic, and data-backed assortment decisions. Next, teams should learn how to harness this data and technology to collaborate more efficiently, have more objective and impactful discussions, and further accelerate product creation and merchandising workflows. 

76% of merchandisers want to increase moments of collaboration around assortments, while 82% believe there is opportunity to improve their teams’ collaboration efforts.

Too often, milestone meetings are dominated by the loudest voices in the room. Precious time is wasted getting everyone up to speed and on the same page, and critical decisions are rushed to meet aggressive timelines. Such chaotic product creation and line reviews simply aren’t conducive to the level of collaboration and true consensus needed to craft the best assortments possible.

Stage 3 of the MakerSights Modern Merchandising Maturity Model provides processes and procedures teams can follow to begin collaborating around assortments with greater purpose and more confidence. Read on to discover whether your brand fits into this stage, the top challenges and biggest opportunities you’ll likely face, and some of the specific actions you can take to reach maturity. 

MakerSights Modern Merchandising Maturity Model.

Start at Stage 3 if… 

  • Stakeholders often meet and communicate virtually using cloud-based collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack.
  • You’ve replaced some, if not all, physical product samples with 3-dimensional computer-aided design (3D CAD) during the sketch review and newness evaluation stages of the product development process.
  • Assortments are mostly organized and shared via a single digital workspace that makes it easy for users to segment and evaluate products in the context of the full line.
  • Most stakeholder feedback is qualitative in nature and captured live during milestone meetings.
  • A large chunk of milestone meetings is often spent setting the context for the assortment and talking through each product feature, rather than discussing predetermined points of contention and collaborating around solutions.

Top Challenges and Opportunities

Common challenges and opportunities in Stage 3 of modern merchandising maturity.

How to Reach Stage 3 Maturity

1. Centralize access to assortment data and insights. 

While we highlighted the need to centralize all assortment data in a dynamic workspace in Stage 2 of our maturity model, it’s necessary to reiterate the importance of this step. Effective collaboration is impossible if each stakeholder is coming to the table with disparate information and varying versions of the truth.

Nearly half (48%) of merchant and product professionals say that assortment data is spread across four or more applications, from spreadsheets to PowerPoint to PLM software. Brands must bring this information together and establish a single source of truth where all assortment data can be easily accessed, analyzed, and shared.

The latest assortment management technologies make it faster and easier than ever to ensure that everyone involved in assortment decisions has direct access to the same information and insights. In just a few clicks, stakeholders can snapshot key findings, add relevant context, and share them with teammates for real-time commenting and discussion.

Snap & Share collaboration functionality in the MakerSights Workspace.

2. Seek qualitative and quantitative stakeholder feedback.

Qualitative data refers to information that is detailed, descriptive, and often emotionally-driven. It’s also non-numerical, which makes it difficult to aggregate and analyze holistically in a consistent and objective manner. In contrast, quantitative data is broader, more analytical information. It’s usually numeric and tied to a clearly defined, unified system or scale, so measurement is much easier and can even be automated. 

An example of capturing internal stakeholder feedback in the MakerSights Workspace.

To successfully conduct research and accurately interpret data, both quantitative and qualitative information must be considered. Yet most if not all of the data generated as stakeholders discuss seasonal themes and review product samples during milestone meetings is qualitative. Because attendees know they’re up against the clock to make their opinions known, the majority of this feedback comes from the loudest voices in the room and reflects the details that only they are most passionate about.

For brands with a brick-and-mortar presence, it’s important to include store associates in the feedback process. On top of hearing valuable shopper input each and every day, they are often some of your brand’s best customers!

Collecting stakeholder feedback on specific product features before milestone meetings is the best way to ensure that everyone gets a chance to weigh in on the details and decisions that matter most. It also gives stakeholders the opportunity to generate quantitative data to help create more objective benchmarks and dialogue, as well as capture qualitative information in an organized and purposeful way.

One of the most effective tactics for soliciting quantitative feedback is to ask stakeholders to rate certain product attributes like price, silhouette, and colorways on a scale of 1-5. From there, teams can write freeform comments to provide qualitative data that explains the “why” behind their ratings.

3. Come to milestone meetings prepared.

Milestone meetings stretch for hours, yet merchant and product professionals cite lack of time as the #1 inhibitor of collaboration. Adding additional minutes is hardly the answer when teams rate just 50% of meetings as “engaging” and time “well-spent.” Instead, brands should focus on making more time for meaningful collaboration by minimizing the need to review assortment information and get everyone up to speed during milestone meetings.

With a single source of truth for all assortment related data in place, it’s easy for teams to access relevant consumer feedback, sales goals, videos on seasonal concepts, and much more prior to joining milestone meetings. Stakeholders should come to the table having done their homework and prepared to actively discuss this information — not review it. 

While getting everyone to adopt this new meeting structure may take some time, here are three ways to help stakeholders put the remaining 50% of their meetings to use:

  1. In milestone meeting invitation descriptions, list out and link directly to the specific information stakeholders should read beforehand at each given stage of the assortment development process.
  2. Add reminders to review this information to all participants’ calendars, ideally two weeks, one week, and two days prior to milestone meetings. Sending a friendly reminder email or group chat at each interval is also a good idea.
  3. Use Google Sheets or a project management tool like Asana to create a checklist of the materials stakeholders are responsible for reviewing. Assign these items to everyone on the team so they can check them off as they’re completed. This makes it easy to identify which stakeholders are prepared and which need an additional nudge. 

Encouraging stakeholders to prepare for milestone meetings in advance not only carves out additional time for collaboration and strategic problem solving, but it also leads to more pointed and productive discussion (more on that in Step 4). Throughout their research, teams are sure to unearth small questions and issues that can be resolved virtually ahead of time, shortening milestone meetings altogether.

4. Focus milestone meetings on key points of contention.

Not every product feature needs or warrants a discussion — but with dozens of varying perspectives in a single room vying to be heard, minor details can turn into major wastes of time. Rather than opening the floor to discuss each and every SKU or design detail, leading brands have begun using data to identify key points of consumer and stakeholder misalignment and focusing milestone meetings on reaching consensus in these critical areas. 

For example, if both consumers and stakeholders provide highly positive quantitative feedback on adding belt loops to men’s pants this season, the decision to move forward can be made without further discussion. However, if there is a major discrepancy between stakeholder and consumer sentiment around a brand new neon printed shirt, this should be raised so that teams can collaborate on whether to drop, adopt, or update this style.

More than half (54%) of brands fail to consistently use data to collaborate around assortments. But brands that do are able to focus milestone meetings on developing bold and experimental newness, collaborating more efficiently and objectively, and quickly gaining conviction and confidently driving consensus around key decisions. Take Faherty, for example

As a young brand, most of Faherty’s merchandising decisions were based on founder intuition and factory minimums. To support its rapid growth and minimize overproduction, Faherty decided to start tapping into consumer sentiment data when evaluating which styles and product details to introduce. This has streamlined the team’s once emotionally-charged milestone meetings by allowing them to have more focused and objective discussions, ultimately leading to a 30% decrease in over-assortment and a 50% reduction in overproduction. 

“I feel much more confident going into milestone meetings armed with MakerSights’ Voice of Consumer data,” shares Caitlin McGilvery, Faherty’s Director of Merchandising. “The insights it provides enable me to objectively validate costly and impactful merchandising decisions.”

5. Look for opportunities to minimize scheduled milestone meetings.

Be honest — how many times have you had to wait to share an idea, raise an issue, or make a decision because your next milestone meeting was weeks away? This was okay when consumers had to wait on brands to reveal the season’s styles and actively create demand. But today, trends happen, opportunities arise, consumer demands shift, and challenges occur in real time. Waiting weeks or months to take action is no longer an option.

With centralized access to real-time assortment, consumer, and stakeholder data, plus technology developments like 3D CAD and cloud-based collaboration tools, modern brands have the power to keep pace. We encourage brands to look for opportunities to reduce the number and length of scheduled milestone meetings in favor of asynchronous collaboration that enables more agile decision making.

More than 70% of product and merchant professionals say that collaboration is more needed around earlier milestone stages, such as seasonal kickoff and concept review. This makes the second half of the product creation and line review process the most logical place to begin cutting back on time spent in milestone meetings. We suggest choosing a handful of meetings to proactively shorten or reduce the number of attendees to decision makers only, with the goal of ultimately eliminating these select meetings altogether.  

With 53% of merchandisers agreeing that assortment meetings are too frequent and/or too long, your team will be sure to thank you! Not only does virtual, asynchronous collaboration empower your brand to more effectively capitalize on trends and avoid imminent challenges, but minimizing company-wide travel also supports economic and environmental sustainability.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In the words of basketball legend Michael Jordan, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Good milestone decisions can be made based on intuition and years of experience. But great milestone decisions — the kind that have positive effects on brands, their customers, and the environment — require teams to collaborate closely around consumer data.

Following the five steps outlined in this post will help stakeholders work together to help your brand release high-performing assortments:

  1. Bring disparate assortment data together in a single source of truth that all stakeholders can access and use to inform collaborative discussion.
  2. Ensure everyone involved in making milestone decisions has a voice while fostering objective, organized conversations by capturing both qualitative and quantitative stakeholder feedback
  3. Make more time for meaningful discussion during milestone meetings when you require all stakeholders to review pertinent assortment information prior to joining.
  4. Leverage consumer and stakeholder sentiment data to identify key points of consumer and stakeholder misalignment and focus milestone meetings on reaching consensus in these critical areas.
  5. Start reducing scheduled, in-person milestone meetings in favor of virtual, asynchronous collaboration and decision making.

MakerSights’ Modern Merchandising Maturity Model distills decades of retail experience, expertise, and success into five distinct stages brands can follow to streamline and accelerate their journeys to consumer-obsessed merchandising. Over the next several weeks, we will release dedicated content across these maturity model stages, each of which presents its own challenges, opportunities, and benefits.

Next up is Stage 4: Remove Silos Between Product Creation and Go-to-Market. This stage of the maturity model will discuss how to incorporate go-to-market data and teams earlier in the product creation process to minimize last-minute friction, improve regional performance, and further reduce economic and environmental waste. 

If you're ready to begin your transformation, you can download our comprehensive Modern Merchandising Maturity Model eBook and get started today.

Team MakerSights

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